Renault's new electric 4 will be closer in spirit and styling to the original 1961 model than we'd first thought. As previewed at the Paris motor show, this 4Ever concept car is said to be very close indeed to the final styling of the 2025 production model, and it's every bit as retro as the gorgeous, equally-new electric Renault 5.
Very close to the final production car
Indeed, Sandeep Bhambra - Renault's director of advanced design - told CompleteCar.ie that: "Everything you see on this car in silver paint is very, very close to the final production model. Everything low down is more of a concept car."
Bhambra also confirmed that the new 4 EV will be sold as an SUV, complementing the similar-sized Captur in the Renault line-up. The original 4 was, of course, a hatchback, but Bhambra pointed out that the 4 was "in some ways the original SUV. You could go into the city with it, you could drive it into town, it was driven by farmers, it was driven by bakers, it was driven by people going on vacation. It was also a democratic car, as it was popular with men, with women, with children, with all ages."
Another justification for marketing the new 4 EV as an SUV is the 4L Trophy Humanitarian Rally. Inaugurated in 1997, this desert rally sees university students driving a flock of original Renault 4s to Morocco, crossing deeply inhospitable terrain while loaded with supplies for underprivileged schools in the region. It is the rally that has inspired the 4Ever concept's 4x4-ish looks.
Shares platform with the new Renault 5 EV
That is some of the classic magic that Renault hopes to tap into with the new 4 EV, which will share its CMF-BEV underpinnings with the incoming new Renault 5 EV. The new platform is not designed exclusively for electric cars - according to Renault it does share some components with the internal-combustion engined platform that supports the current Clio and Captur, but that relationship means that the new EV platform is expected to be around 30 per cent cheaper to build than that of the current Zoe EV. Renault will need to make the most of those savings if it's to compete with the likes of MG in the coming years.
The new 4 EV will be priced between the new 5 EV and the newly-launched Megane E-Tech Electric. Renault is being coy with technical details for now, but there was talk at the 4Ever event of a choice of 40kWh or 54kWh battery packs, but in spite of the overtly off-road styling of the 4Ever concept, there won't be an all-wheel-drive 4 EV.
Indeed, the 4Ever doesn't have four-wheel drive, as it's just a bodyshell, with no interior and no functioning chassis or motor. It's been purely designed to give a strong clue as to how the new 4 EV will look when it reaches Renault dealers in 2025. In theory it has a 100kW electric motor (136hp) and a 42kWh battery pack, but it's really just a styling study, not a functional vehicle.
Classic R4 styling with modern details
The overall shape and silhouette are unmistakably that of the original Renault 4 but with smoother lines and modish LED lighting details. The original was built from 1961 to 1991 with more than eight million examples sold around the world, including some that were built from kits in Wexford, for the Irish market. The grille at the front isn't a grille at all, but really a playground for a series of LEDs that mimic the round headlights of the original and top them off with a light-up Renault diamond in the centre.
Behind, the bonnet opens up into a vast race-car-style air duct, which in theory draws cooling air from under the car and allows heat from the front-mounted electric motor to escape. Don't expect to see this make it through to production.
At the rear, there are lozenge-shaped brake lights, LEDs of course, which again mimic the shape of the original's, with three distinct lighting zones harking back to the three bulbs of the version from the sixties. The rear pillar also gets the same trapezoidal window shape as the original, which, if it's copied for the production model, should make for quite a light and airy cabin.
To make the 4Ever look suitably rugged, it gets a chunky lower section that notionally carries the battery pack, and which is made from partly-recycled plastics. There are big 19-inch wheels with butch-looking Continental off-road tyres, too. Those tubes in the centre of the wheels are supposed to be an automatic tyre inflation and deflation system, allowing you to set the right pressure for the terrain you're crossing. Up top, there's a roof rack with a spare tyre and on the rear tailgate there's a folding shovel and sand pads for getting traction on loose surfaces. Everything's set off by little flashes of a bright magenta colour, which is the 4Ever's signature.
The 4Ever doesn't have an interior, and when we asked if the production model will get some sort of nod to the original's famous umbrella-handle gear lever, both Bhambra and Laure Grégoire, the 4Ever project leader, demurred but didn't deny.
On whether the new 4 EV's price point will be too high for those who remember that the original '61 car was a cheap, affordable rival to the Citroen 2CV, Grégoire said: "What we decided to keep in this car from the original was the DNA of the 4, the versatility, the boldness, the symbol of freedom and social evolution. Of course, we will have tough competition, and there will be many new competitors in the electric B-SUV segment, but what we have to remind people is that we are a company with more than 120 years of experience. That is a way to make a difference to the other newcomers on the market."
Will the tremendous public reception for the electric Renault 5 EV, and the likely reception for the revived 4 EV mean that Renault will continue to plunder its back catalogue for retro-styled electric cars? Bhambra says there has to be a balance. "Well, you have the 17, you have the Fuego, you have the original Espace concept, which was really quite low-slung," Bhambra said. "But I think we have to balance the range. We shouldn't just be doing retro cars. We should be doing legendary icons, like these cars here, but we also need to keep on doing some modern cars, which become new icons."